BATAVIA – Bright yellow signs lined the fence by the south end zone Friday night at Batavia High School.
Each one, featuring a large outline of the state of Illinois, signified an IHSA playoff appearance for the Bulldogs, who have qualified for the postseason 15 of the past 18 years.
Over two decades, Batavia has played itself into an annual title contender, placing second in 2006 and winning Upstate Eight Conference titles after the former Western Sun Conference split in 2009.
DeKalb, making its first playoff appearance in three years and third since 1989, isn’t there yet, and the Barbs fell to Batavia, 48-6, in the first round of the IHSA Class 6A playoffs.
It was another learning experience for a team that was short on games played but not on talent. There was obvious progress made when, less than a year ago, DeKalb football didn’t seem to have a direction or an identity heading into the offseason.
The flashes of offensive brilliance were evident all season, extending from the back-and-forth first half against Sycamore in Week 3 to Dre Brown’s 69-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game Friday, giving the Barbs a quick, but brief, 6-0 lead.
Yet they were just that: flashes. Consistency will come.
The Barbs are young. There are key pieces on both sides of the ball that will graduate this year, but the vast majority of the roster will return one year more experienced.
It’s a stark contrast to the rest of the Northern Illinois Big 12 East as frontrunners Sycamore and Kaneland will both lose senior classes that have been key to those teams’ successes over the past three years. Both programs have proven they can restock quickly, but they will undoubtedly feel the effect of graduation.
In fact, DeKalb may be the favorite in the conference going into next season.
DeKalb hasn’t quite arrived. Another year under first-year coach Matt Weckler and an offseason with leadership – both players and coaches – already in place should allow DeKalb to take another step forward, much like the three-win improvement that occurred in 2013. Undoubtedly, the Barbs are headed in the right direction.
And when DeKalb hosts its 2014 home opener, their own initial sign of progress – in whatever tangible form athletic director Bryon Houy chooses – will already be in place.
• Ross Jacobson is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RossJacobson.